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Chapter 8 – A Cure For Despair

Louisa May AlcottNov 05, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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LISHA WILKINS.

WHEN Christie opened the eyes that had closed so wearily, afternoon
sunshine streamed across the room, and seemed the herald of happier
days. Refreshed by sleep, and comforted by grateful recollections of
her kindly welcome, she lay tranquilly enjoying the friendly
atmosphere about her, with so strong a feeling that a skilful hand
had taken the rudder, that she felt very little anxiety or curiosity
about the haven which was to receive her boat after this narrow
escape from shipwreck.

Her eye wandered to and fro, and brightened as it went; for though a
poor, plain room it was as neat as hands could make it, and so
glorified with sunshine that she thought it a lovely place, in spite
of the yellow paper with green cabbage roses on it, the gorgeous
plaster statuary on the mantel-piece, and the fragrance of
dough-nuts which pervaded the air. Every thing suggested home life,
humble but happy, and Christie’s solitary heart warmed at the sights
and sounds about her.

A half open closet-door gave her glimpses of little frocks and
jackets, stubby little shoes, and go-to-meeting hats all in a row.
From below came up the sound of childish voices chattering, childish
feet trotting to and fro, and childish laughter sounding sweetly
through the Sabbath stillness of the place. From a room near by,
came the soothing creak of a rocking-chair, the rustle of a
newspaper, and now and then a scrap of conversation common-place
enough, but pleasant to hear, because so full of domestic love and
confidence; and, as she listened, Christie pictured Mrs. Wilkins and
her husband taking their rest together after the week’s hard work
was done.

"I wish I could stay here; it’s so comfortable and home-like. I
wonder if they wouldn’t let me have this room, and help me to find
some better work than sewing? I’ll get up and ask them," thought
Christie, feeling an irresistible desire to stay, and strong
repugnance to returning to the room she had left, for, as Rachel
truly said, it was haunted for her.

When she opened the door to go down, Mrs. Wilkins bounced out of her
rocking-chair and hurried to meet her with a smiling face, saying
all in one breath:

"Good mornin’, dear! Rested well, I hope? I’m proper glad to hear
it. Now come right down and have your dinner. I kep it hot, for I
couldn’t bear to wake you up, you was sleepin’ so beautiful."

"I was so worn out I slept like a baby, and feel like a new
creature. It was so kind of you to take me in, and I’m so grateful I
don’t know how to show it," said Christie, warmly, as her hostess
ponderously descended the complaining stairs and ushered her into
the tidy kitchen from which tubs and flat-irons were banished one
day in the week.

"Lawful sakes, the’ ain’t nothing to be grateful for, child, and
you’re heartily welcome to the little I done. We are country folks
in our ways, though we be livin’ in the city, and we have a reg’lar
country dinner Sundays. Hope you’ll relish it; my vittles is clean
ef they ain’t rich."

As she spoke, Mrs. Wilkins dished up baked beans, Indian-pudding,
and brown bread enough for half a dozen. Christie was hungry now,
and ate with an appetite that delighted the good lady who vibrated
between her guest and her children, shut up in the "settin’-room."

"Now please let me tell you all about myself, for I am afraid you
think me something better than I am. If I ask help from you, it is
right that you should know whom you are helping," said Christie,
when the table was cleared and her hostess came and sat down beside
her.

"Yes, my dear, free your mind, and then we’ll fix things up right
smart. Nothin’ I like better, and Lisha says I have considerable of
a knack that way," replied Mrs. Wilkins, with a smile, a nod, and an
air of interest most reassuring.

So Christie told her story, won to entire confidence by the
sympathetic face opposite, and the motherly pats so gently given by
the big, rough hand that often met her own. When all was told,
Christie said very earnestly:

"I am ready to go to work to-morrow, and will do any thing I can
find, but I should love to stay here a little while, if I could; I
do so dread to be alone. Is it possible? I mean to pay my board of
course, and help you besides if you’ll let me."

Mrs. Wilkins glowed with pleasure at this compliment, and leaning
toward Christie, looked into her face a moment in silence, as if to
test the sincerity of the wish. In that moment Christie saw what
steady, sagacious eyes the woman had; so clear, so honest that she
looked through them into the great, warm heart below, and looking
forgot the fuzzy, red hair, the paucity of teeth, the faded gown,
and felt only the attraction of a nature genuine and genial as the
sunshine dancing on the kitchen floor.

Beautiful souls often get put into plain bodies, but they cannot be
hidden, and have a power all their own, the greater for the
unconsciousness or the humility which gives it grace. Christie saw
and felt this then, and when the homely woman spoke, listened to her
with implicit confidence.

"My dear, I’d no more send you away now than I would my Adelaide,
for you need looking after for a spell, most as much as she doos.
You’ve been thinkin’ and broodin’ too much, and sewin’ yourself to
death. We’ll stop all that, and keep you so busy there won’t be no
time for the hypo. You’re one of them that can’t live alone without
starvin’ somehow, so I’m jest goin’ to turn you in among them
children to paster, so to speak. That’s wholesome and fillin’ for
you, and goodness knows it will be a puffect charity to me, for I’m
goin’ to be dreadful drove with gettin’ up curtins and all manner of
things, as spring comes on. So it ain’t no favor on my part, and you
can take out your board in tendin’ baby and putterin’ over them
little tykes."

"I should like it so much! But I forgot my debt to Mrs. Flint;
perhaps she won’t let me go," said Christie, with an anxious cloud
coming over her brightening face.

"Merciful, suz! don’t you be worried about her. I’ll see to her, and
ef she acts ugly Lisha ‘ll fetch her round; men can always settle
such things better’n we can, and he’s a dreadful smart man Lisha is.
We’ll go to-morrer and get your belongins, and then settle right
down for a spell; and by-an’-by when you git a trifle more chipper
we’ll find a nice place in the country some’rs. That’s what you
want; nothin’ like green grass and woodsy smells to right folks up.
When I was a gal, ef I got low in my mind, or riled in my temper, I
jest went out and grubbed in the gardin, or made hay, or walked a
good piece, and it fetched me round beautiful. Never failed; so I
come to see that good fresh dirt is fust rate physic for folk’s
spirits as it is for wounds, as they tell on."

"That sounds sensible and pleasant, and I like it. Oh, it is so
beautiful to feel that somebody cares for you a little bit, and you
ain’t one too many in the world," sighed Christie.

"Don’t you never feel that agin, my dear. What’s the Lord for ef He
ain’t to hold on to in times of trouble. Faith ain’t wuth much ef
it’s only lively in fair weather; you’ve got to believe hearty and
stan’ by the Lord through thick and thin, and He’ll stan’ by you as
no one else begins to. I remember of havin’ this bore in upon me by
somethin’ that happened to a man I knew. He got blowed up in a
powder-mill, and when folks asked him what he thought when the bust
come, he said, real sober and impressive: ‘Wal, it come through me,
like a flash, that I’d served the Lord as faithful as I knew how for
a number a years, and I guessed He’d fetch me through somehow, and
He did.’ Sure enough the man warn’t killed; I’m bound to confess he
was shook dreadful, but his faith warn’t."

Christie could not help smiling at the story, but she liked it, and
sincerely wished she could imitate the hero of it in his piety, not
his powder. She was about to say so when the sound of approaching
steps announced the advent of her host. She had been rather
impressed with the "smartness" of Lisha by his wife’s praises, but
when a small, sallow, sickly looking man came in she changed her
mind; for not even an immensely stiff collar, nor a pair of boots
that seemed composed entirely of what the boys call "creak leather,"
could inspire her with confidence.

Without a particle of expression in his yellow face, Mr. Wilkins
nodded to the stranger over the picket fence of his collar, lighted
his pipe, and clumped away to enjoy his afternoon promenade without
compromising himself by a single word.

His wife looked after him with an admiring gaze as she said:

"Them boots is as good as an advertisement, for he made every stitch
on ’em himself;" then she added, laughing like a girl: "It’s
redick’lus my bein’ so proud of Lisha, but ef a woman ain’t a right
to think wal of her own husband, I should like to know who has!"

Christie was afraid that Mrs. Wilkins had seen her disappointment in
her face, and tried, with wifely zeal, to defend her lord from even
a disparaging thought. Wishing to atone for this transgression she
was about to sing the praises of the wooden-faced Elisha, but was
spared any polite fibs by the appearance of a small girl who
delivered an urgent message to the effect, that "Mis Plumly was down
sick and wanted Mis Wilkins to run over and set a spell."

As the good lady hesitated with an involuntary glance at her guest,
Christie said quickly:

"Don’t mind me; I’ll take care of the house for you if you want to
go. You may be sure I won’t run off with the children or steal the
spoons."

"I ain’t a mite afraid of anybody wantin’ to steal them little
toads; and as for spoons, I ain’t got a silver one to bless myself
with," laughed Mrs. Wilkins. "I guess I will go, then, ef you don’t
mind, as it’s only acrost the street. Like’s not settin’ quiet will
be better for you ‘n talkin’, for I’m a dreadful hand to gab when I
git started. Tell Mis Plumly I’m a comin’."

Then, as the child ran off, the stout lady began to rummage in her
closet, saying, as she rattled and slammed:

"I’ll jest take her a drawin’ of tea and a couple of nut-cakes:
mebby she’ll relish ’em, for I shouldn’t wonder ef she hadn’t had a
mouthful this blessed day. She’s dreadful slack at the best of
times, but no one can much wonder, seein’ she’s got nine children,
and is jest up from a rheumatic fever. I’m sure I never grudge a
meal of vittles or a hand’s turn to such as she is, though she does
beat all for dependin’ on her neighbors. I’m a thousand times
obleeged. You needn’t werry about the children, only don’t let ’em
git lost, or burnt, or pitch out a winder; and when it’s done give
’em the patty-cake that’s bakin’ for ’em."

With which maternal orders Mrs. Wilkins assumed a sky-blue bonnet,
and went beaming away with several dishes genteelly hidden under her
purple shawl.

Being irresistibly attracted toward the children Christie opened the
door and took a survey of her responsibilities.

Six lively infants were congregated in the "settin’-room," and chaos
seemed to have come again, for every sort of destructive amusement
was in full operation. George Washington, the eldest blossom, was
shearing a resigned kitten; Gusty and Ann Eliza were concocting mud
pies in the ashes; Adelaide Victoria was studying the structure of
lamp-wicks, while Daniel Webster and Andrew Jackson were dragging
one another in a clothes-basket, to the great detriment of the old
carpet and still older chariot.

Thinking that some employment more suited to the day might be
introduced, Christie soon made friends with these young persons,
and, having rescued the kitten, banished the basket, lured the elder
girls from their mud-piety, and quenched the curiosity of the
Pickwickian Adelaide, she proposed teaching them some little hymns.

The idea was graciously received, and the class decorously seated in
a row. But before a single verse was given out, Gusty, being of a
house-wifely turn of mind, suggested that the patty-cake might burn.
Instant alarm pervaded the party, and a precipitate rush was made
for the cooking-stove, where Christie proved by ocular demonstration
that the cake showed no signs of baking, much less of burning. The
family pronounced themselves satisfied, after each member had poked
a grimy little finger into the doughy delicacy, whereon one large
raisin reposed in proud pre-eminence over the vulgar herd of
caraways.

Order being with difficulty restored, Christie taught her flock an
appropriate hymn, and was flattering herself that their youthful
minds were receiving a devotional bent, when they volunteered a
song, and incited thereunto by the irreverent Wash, burst forth with
a gem from Mother Goose, closing with a smart skirmish of arms and
legs that set all law and order at defiance. Hoping to quell the
insurrection Christie invited the breathless rioters to calm
themselves by looking at the pictures in the big Bible. But,
unfortunately, her explanations were so vivid that her audience were
fired with a desire to enact some of the scenes portrayed, and no
persuasions could keep them from playing Ark on the spot. The
clothes-basket was elevated upon two chairs, and into it marched the
birds of the air and the beasts of the field, to judge by the noise,
and all set sail, with Washington at the helm, Jackson and Webster
plying the clothes and pudding-sticks for oars, while the young
ladies rescued their dolls from the flood, and waved their hands to
imaginary friends who were not unmindful of the courtesies of life
even in the act of drowning.

MRS. WILKINS’ SIX LIVELY INFANTS.

Finding her authority defied Christie left the rebels to their own
devices, and sitting in a corner, began to think about her own
affairs. But before she had time to get anxious or perplexed the
children diverted her mind, as if the little flibberty-gibbets knew
that their pranks and perils were far wholesomer for her just then
than brooding.

The much-enduring kitten being sent forth as a dove upon the waters
failed to return with the olive-branch; of which peaceful emblem
there was soon great need, for mutiny broke out, and spread with
disastrous rapidity.

Ann Eliza slapped Gusty because she had the biggest bandbox; Andrew
threatened to "chuck" Daniel overboard if he continued to trample on
the fraternal toes, and in the midst of the fray, by some unguarded
motion, Washington capsized the ship and precipitated the
patriarchal family into the bosom of the deep.

Christie flew to the rescue, and, hydropathically treated, the
anguish of bumps and bruises was soon assuaged. Then appeared the
appropriate moment for a story, and gathering the dilapidated party
about her she soon enraptured them by a recital of the immortal
history of "Frank and the little dog Trusty." Charmed with her
success she was about to tell another moral tale, but no sooner had
she announced the name, "The Three Cakes," when, like an electric
flash a sudden recollection seized the young Wilkinses, and with one
voice they demanded their lawful prize, sure that now it must be
done.

Christie had forgotten all about it, and was harassed with secret
misgivings as she headed the investigating committee. With skipping
of feet and clapping of hands the eager tribe surrounded the stove,
and with fear and trembling Christie drew forth a melancholy cinder,
where, like Casablanca, the lofty raisin still remained, blackened,
but undaunted, at its post.

Then were six little vials of wrath poured out upon her devoted
head, and sounds of lamentation filled the air, for the irate
Wilkinses refused to be comforted till the rash vow to present each
member of the outraged family with a private cake produced a lull,
during which the younger ones were decoyed into the back yard, and
the three elders solaced themselves with mischief.

Mounted on mettlesome broomsticks Andrew and Daniel were riding
merrily away to the Banbury Cross, of blessed memory, and little Vie
was erecting a pagoda of oyster-shells, under Christie’s
superintendence, when a shrill scream from within sent horsemen and
architects flying to the rescue.

Gusty’s pinafore was in a blaze; Ann Eliza was dancing frantically
about her sister as if bent on making a suttee of herself, while
George Washington hung out of window, roaring, "Fire!" "water!"
"engine!" "pa!" with a presence of mind worthy of his sex.

A speedy application of the hearth-rug quenched the conflagration,
and when a minute burn had been enveloped in cotton-wool, like a
gem, a coroner sat upon the pinafore and investigated the case.

It appeared that the ladies were "only playing paper dolls," when
Wash, sighing for the enlightenment of his race, proposed to make a
bonfire, and did so with an old book; but Gusty, with a firm belief
in future punishment, tried to save it, and fell a victim to her
principles, as the virtuous are very apt to do.

The book was brought into court, and proved to be an ancient volume
of ballads, cut, torn, and half consumed. Several peculiarly
developed paper dolls, branded here and there with large letters,
like galley-slaves, were then produced by the accused, and the judge
could with difficulty preserve her gravity when she found "John
Gilpin" converted into a painted petticoat, "The Bay of Biscay, O,"
situated in the crown of a hat, and "Chevy Chase" issuing from the
mouth of a triangular gentleman, who, like Dickens’s cherub,
probably sung it by ear, having no lungs to speak of.

It was further apparent from the agricultural appearance of the room
that beans had been sowed broadcast by means of the apple-corer,
which Wash had converted into a pop-gun with a mechanical ingenuity
worthy of more general appreciation. He felt this deeply, and when
Christie reproved him for leading his sisters astray, he resented
the liberty she took, and retired in high dudgeon to the cellar,
where he appeared to set up a menagerie, – for bears, lions, and
unknown animals, endowed with great vocal powers, were heard to
solicit patronage from below.

Somewhat exhausted by her labors, Christie rested, after clearing up
the room, while the children found a solace for all afflictions in
the consumption of relays of bread and molasses, which infantile
restorative occurred like an inspiration to the mind of their
guardian.

Peace reigned for fifteen minutes; then came a loud crash from the
cellar, followed by a violent splashing, and wild cries of, "Oh, oh,
oh, I’ve fell into the pork barrel! I’m drownin’, I’m drownin’!"

Down rushed Christie, and the sticky innocents ran screaming after,
to behold their pickled brother fished up from the briny deep. A
spectacle well calculated to impress upon their infant minds the
awful consequences of straying from the paths of virtue.

At this crisis Mrs. Wilkins providentially appeared, breathless, but
brisk and beaming, and in no wise dismayed by the plight of her
luckless son, for a ten years’ acquaintance with Wash’s dauntless
nature had inured his mother to "didoes" that would have appalled
most women.

"Go right up chamber, and change every rag on you, and don’t come
down agin till I rap on the ceilin’; you dreadful boy, disgracin’
your family by sech actions. I’m sorry I was kep’ so long, but Mis
Plumly got tellin’ her werryments, and ‘peared to take so much
comfort in it I couldn’t bear to stop her. Then I jest run round to
your place and told that woman that you was safe and well, along’r
friends, and would call in to-morrer to get your things. She ‘d ben
so scart by your not comin’ home that she was as mild as milk, so
you won’t have no trouble with her, I expect."

"Thank you very much! How kind you are, and how tired you must be!
Sit down and let me take your things," cried Christie, more relieved
than she could express.

"Lor’, no, I’m fond of walkin’, but bein’ ruther hefty it takes my
breath away some to hurry. I’m afraid these children have tuckered
you out though. They are proper good gen’lly, but when they do take
to trainen they’re a sight of care," said Mrs. Wilkins, as she
surveyed her imposing bonnet with calm satisfaction.

"I’ve enjoyed it very much, and it’s done me good, for I haven’t
laughed so much for six months as I have this afternoon," answered
Christie, and it was quite true, for she had been too busy to think
of herself or her woes.

"Wal, I thought likely it would chirk you up some, or I shouldn’t
have went," and Mrs. Wilkins put away a contented smile with her
cherished bonnet, for Christie’s face had grown so much brighter
since she saw it last, that the good woman felt sure her treatment
was the right one.

At supper Lisha reappeared, and while his wife and children talked
incessantly, he ate four slices of bread and butter, three pieces of
pie, five dough-nuts, and drank a small ocean of tea out of his
saucer. Then, evidently feeling that he had done his duty like a
man, he gave Christie another nod, and disappeared again without a
word.

When she had done up her dishes Mrs. Wilkins brought out a few books
and papers, and said to Christie, who sat apart by the window, with
the old shadow creeping over her face:

"Now don’t feel lonesome, my dear, but jest lop right down on the
sotfy and have a sociable kind of a time. Lisha’s gone down street
for the evenin’. I’ll keep the children as quiet as one woman can,
and you may read or rest, or talk, jest as you’re a mind."

"Thank you; I’ll sit here and rock little Vie to sleep for you. I
don’t care to read, but I’d like to have you talk to me, for it
seems as if I’d known you a long time and it does me good," said
Christie, as she settled herself and baby on the old settee which
had served as a cradle for six young Wilkinses, and now received the
honorable name of sofa in its old age.

Mrs. Wilkins looked gratified, as she settled her brood round the
table with a pile of pictorial papers to amuse them. Then having
laid herself out to be agreeable, she sat thoughtfully rubbing the
bridge of her nose, at a loss how to begin. Presently Christie
helped her by an involuntary sigh.

"What’s the matter, dear? Is there any thing I can do to make you
comfortable?" asked the kind soul, alert at once, and ready to offer
sympathy.

"I’m very cosy, thank you, and I don’t know why I sighed. It’s a way
I’ve got into when I think of my worries," explained Christie, in
haste.

"Wal, dear, I wouldn’t ef I was you. Don’t keep turnin’ your
troubles over. Git atop of ’em somehow, and stay there ef you can,"
said Mrs. Wilkins, very earnestly.

"But that’s just what I can’t do. I’ve lost all my spirits and
courage, and got into a dismal state of mind. You seem to be very
cheerful, and yet you must have a good deal to try you sometimes. I
wish you’d tell me how you do it;" and Christie looked wistfully
into that other face, so plain, yet so placid, wondering to see how
little poverty, hard work, and many cares had soured or saddened it.

"Really I don’t know, unless it’s jest doin’ whatever comes along,
and doin’ of it hearty, sure that things is all right, though very
often I don’t see it at fust."

"Do you see it at last?"

"Gen’lly I do; and if I don’t I take it on trust, same as children
do what older folks tell ’em; and byme-by when I’m grown up in
spiritual things I’ll understan’ as the dears do, when they git to
be men and women."

That suited Christie, and she thought hopefully within herself:

"This woman has got the sort of religion I want, if it makes her
what she is. Some day I’ll get her to tell me where she found it."
Then aloud she said:

"But it’s so hard to be patient and contented when nothing happens
as you want it to, and you don’t get your share of happiness, no
matter how much you try to deserve it."

"It ain’t easy to bear, I know, but having tried my own way and made
a dreadful mess on ‘t, I concluded that the Lord knows what’s best
for us, and things go better when He manages than when we go
scratchin’ round and can’t wait."

"Tried your own way? How do you mean?" asked Christie, curiously;
for she liked to hear her hostess talk, and found something besides
amusement in the conversation, which seemed to possess a fresh
country flavor as well as country phrases.

Mrs. Wilkins smiled all over her plump face, as if she liked to tell
her experience, and having hunched sleepy little Andy more
comfortably into her lap, and given a preparatory hem or two, she
began with great good-will.

"It happened a number a years ago and ain’t much of a story any way.
But you’re welcome to it, as some of it is rather humorsome, the
laugh may do you good ef the story don’t. We was livin’ down to the
east’ard at the time. It was a real pretty place; the house stood
under a couple of maples and a gret brook come foamin’ down the
rayvine and away through the medders to the river. Dear sakes, seems
as ef I see it now, jest as I used to settin’ on the doorsteps with
the lay-locks all in blow, the squirrels jabberin’ on the wall, and
the saw-mill screekin’ way off by the dam."

Pausing a moment, Mrs. Wilkins looked musingly at the steam of the
tea-kettle, as if through its silvery haze she saw her early home
again. Wash promptly roused her from this reverie by tumbling off
the boiler with a crash. His mother picked him up and placidly went
on, falling more and more into the country dialect which city life
had not yet polished.

"I oushter hev been the contentedest woman alive, but I warn’t, for
you see I’d worked at millineryin’ before I was married, and had an
easy time on’t, Afterwards the children come along pretty fast,
there was sights of work to do, and no time for pleasuring so I got
wore out, and used to hanker after old times in a dreadful wicked
way.

"Finally I got acquainted with a Mis Bascum, and she done me a sight
of harm. You see, havin’ few pies of her own to bake, she was fond
of puttin’ her fingers into her neighborses, but she done it so neat
that no one mistrusted she was takin’ all the sarce and leavin’ all
the crust to them, as you may say. Wal, I told her my werryments and
she sympathized real hearty, and said I didn’t ought to stan’ it,
but have things to suit me, and enjoy myself, as other folks did. So
when she put it into my head I thought it amazin’ good advice, and
jest went and done as she told me.

"Lisha was the kindest man you ever see, so when I up and said I
warn’t goin’ to drudge round no more, but must hev a girl, he got
one, and goodness knows what a trial she was. After she came I got
dreadful slack, and left the house and the children to Hen’retta,
and went pleasurin’ frequent all in my best. I always was a dressy
woman in them days, and Lisha give me his earnin’s real lavish,
bless his heart! and I went and spent ’em on my sinful gowns and
bunnets."

Here Mrs. Wilkins stopped to give a remorseful groan and stroke her
faded dress, as if she found great comfort in its dinginess.

"It ain’t no use tellin’ all I done, but I had full swing, and at
fust I thought luck was in my dish sure. But it warn’t, seein’ I
didn’t deserve it, and I had to take my mess of trouble, which was
needful and nourishin,’ ef I’d had the grace to see it so.

"Lisha got into debt, and no wonder, with me a wastin’ of his
substance; Hen’retta went off suddin’, with whatever she could lay
her hands on, and everything was at sixes and sevens. Lisha’s
patience give out at last, for I was dreadful fractious, knowin’ it
was all my fault. The children seemed to git out of sorts, too, and
acted like time in the primer, with croup and pins, and
whoopin’-cough and temper. I declare I used to think the pots and
kettles biled over to spite each other and me too in them days.

"All this was nuts to Mis Bascum, and she kep’ advisin’ and
encouragin’ of me, and I didn’t see through her a mite, or guess
that settin’ folks by the ears was as relishin’ to her as bitters is
to some. Merciful, suz! what a piece a work we did make betwixt us!
I scolded and moped ’cause I couldn’t have my way; Lisha swore and
threatened to take to drinkin’ ef I didn’t make home more
comfortable; the children run wild, and the house was gittin’ too
hot to hold us, when we was brought up with a round turn, and I see
the redicklousness of my doin’s in time.

"One day Lisha come home tired and cross, for bills was pressin’,
work slack, and folks talkin’ about us as ef they ‘d nothin’ else to
do. I was dishin’ up dinner, feelin’ as nervous as a witch, for a
whole batch of bread had burnt to a cinder while I was trimmin’ a
new bunnet, Wash had scart me most to death swallerin’ a cent, and
the steak had been on the floor more’n once, owin’ to my havin’
babies, dogs, cats, or hens under my feet the whole blessed time.

"Lisha looked as black as thunder, throwed his hat into a corner,
and came along to the sink where I was skinnin’ pertaters. As he
washed his hands, I asked what the matter was; but he only muttered
and slopped, and I couldn’t git nothin’ out of him, for he ain’t
talkative at the best of times as you see, and when he’s werried
corkscrews wouldn’t draw a word from him.

"Bein’ riled myself didn’t mend matters, and so we fell to hectorin’
one another right smart. He said somethin’ that dreened my last drop
of patience; I give a sharp answer, and fust thing I knew he up with
his hand and slapped me. It warn’t a hard blow by no means, only a
kind of a wet spat side of the head; but I thought I should have
flew, and was as mad as ef I’d been knocked down. You never see a
man look so ‘shamed as Lisha did, and ef I’d been wise I should have
made up the quarrel then. But I was a fool. I jest flung fork, dish,
pertaters and all into the pot, and says, as ferce as you please:

"’Lisha Wilkins, when you can treat me decent you may come and fetch
me back; you won’t see me till then, and so I tell you.’

"Then I made a bee-line for Mis Bascum’s; told her the whole story,
had a good cry, and was all ready to go home in half an hour, but
Lisha didn’t come.

"Wal, that night passed, and what a long one it was to be sure! and
me without a wink of sleep, thinkin’ of Wash and the cent, my
emptins and the baby. Next day come, but no Lisha, no message, no
nuthin’, and I began to think I’d got my match though I had a sight
of grit in them days. I sewed, and Mis Bascum she clacked; but I
didn’t say much, and jest worked like sixty to pay for my keep, for
I warn’t goin’ to be beholden to her for nothin’.

"The day dragged on terrible slow, and at last I begged her to go
and git me a clean dress, for I’d come off jest as I was, and folks
kep’ droppin’ in, for the story was all round, thanks to Mis
Bascum’s long tongue.

"Wal, she went, and ef you’ll believe me Lisha wouldn’t let her in!
He handed my best things out a winder and told her to tell me they
were gittin’ along fust rate with Florindy Walch to do the work. He
hoped I’d have a good time, and not expect him for a consider’ble
spell, for he liked a quiet house, and now he’d got it.

"When I heard that, I knew he must be provoked the wust kind, for he
ain’t a hash man by nater. I could have crep’ in at the winder ef he
wouldn’t open the door, I was so took down by that message. But Mis
Bascum wouldn’t hear of it, and kep’ stirrin’ of me up till I was
ashamed to eat ‘umble pie fust; so I waited to see how soon he’d
come round. But he had the best on’t you see, for he’d got the
babies and lost a cross wife, while I’d lost every thing but Mis
Bascum, who grew hatefuler to me every hour, for I begun to mistrust
she was a mischief-maker, – widders most always is, – seein’ how she
pampered up my pride and ‘peared to like the quarrel.

"I thought I should have died more’n once, for sure as you live it
went on three mortal days, and of all miser’ble creeters I was the
miser’blest. Then I see how wicked and ungrateful I’d been; how I’d
shirked my bounden duty and scorned my best blessins. There warn’t a
hard job that ever I’d hated but what grew easy when I remembered
who it was done for; there warn’t a trouble or a care that I
wouldn’t have welcomed hearty, nor one hour of them dear fractious
babies that didn’t seem precious when I’d gone and left ’em. I’d got
time to rest enough now, and might go pleasuring all day long; but I
couldn’t do it, and would have given a dozin bunnets trimmed to kill
ef I could only have been back moilin’ in my old kitchen with the
children hangin’ round me and Lisha a comin’ in cheerful from his
work as he used to ‘fore I spoilt his home for him. How sing’lar it
is folks never do know when they are wal off!"

"I know it now," said Christie, rocking lazily to and fro, with a
face almost as tranquil as little Vic’s, lying half asleep in her
lap.

"Glad to hear it, my dear. As I was goin’ on to say, when Saturday
come, a tremenjus storm set in, and it rained guns all day. I never
shall forgit it, for I was hankerin’ after baby, and dreadful
worried about the others, all bein’ croupy, and Florindy with no
more idee of nussin’ than a baa lamb. The rain come down like a
reg’lar deluge, but I didn’t seem to have no ark to run to. As night
come on things got wuss and wuss, for the wind blowed the roof off
Mis Bascum’s barn and stove in the butt’ry window; the brook riz and
went ragin’ every which way, and you never did see such a piece of
work.

"My heart was most broke by that time, and I knew I should give in
‘fore Monday. But I set and sewed and listened to the tinkle tankle
of the drops in the pans set round to ketch ’em, for the house
leaked like a sieve. Mis Bascurn was down suller putterin’ about,
for every kag and sarce jar was afloat. Moses, her brother, was
lookin’ after his stock and tryin’ to stop the damage. All of a
sudden he bust in lookin’ kinder wild, and settin’ down the lantern,
he sez, sez he: ‘You’re ruthern an unfortinate woman to-night, Mis
Wilkins.’ ‘How so?’ sez I, as ef nuthin’ was the matter already.
"’Why,’ sez he, ‘the spilins have give way up in the rayvine, and
the brook ‘s come down like a river, upsot your lean-to, washed the
mellion patch slap into the road, and while your husband was tryin’
to git the pig out of the pen, the water took a turn and swep him
away.’

"’Drownded?’ sez I, with only breath enough for that one word.
‘Shouldn’t wonder,’ sez Moses, ‘nothin’ ever did come up alive after
goin’ over them falls.’

"It come over me like a streak of lightenin’; every thin’ kinder
slewed round, and I dropped in the first faint I ever had in my
life. Next I knew Lisha was holdin’ of me and cryin’ fit to kill
himself. I thought I was dreamin’, and only had wits enough to give
a sort of permiscuous grab at him and call out:

"’Oh, Lisha! ain’t you drownded?’ He give a gret start at that,
swallered down his sobbin’, and sez as lovin’ as ever a man did in
this world:

"’Bless your dear heart, Cynthy, it warn’t me it was the pig;’ and
then fell to kissin’ of me, till betwixt laughin’ and cryin’ I was
most choked. Deary me, it all comes back so livin’ real it kinder
takes my breath away."

And well it might, for the good soul entered so heartily into her
story that she unconsciously embellished it with dramatic
illustrations. At the slapping episode she flung an invisible "fork,
dish, and pertaters" into an imaginary kettle, and glared; when the
catastrophe arrived, she fell back upon her chair to express
fainting; gave Christie’s arm the "permiscuous grab" at the proper
moment, and uttered the repentant Lisha’s explanation with an
incoherent pathos that forbid a laugh at the sudden introduction of
the porcine martyr.

"What did you do then?" asked Christie in a most flattering state of
interest.

"Oh, law! I went right home and hugged them children for a couple of
hours stiddy," answered Mrs; Wilkins, as if but one conclusion was
possible.

"Did all your troubles go down with the pig?" asked Christie,
presently.

"Massy, no, we’re all poor, feeble worms, and the best meanin’ of us
fails too often," sighed Mrs. Wilkins, as she tenderly adjusted the
sleepy head of the young worm in her lap. "After that scrape I done
my best; Lisha was as meek as a whole flock of sheep, and we give
Mis Bascum a wide berth. Things went lovely for ever so long, and
though, after a spell, we had our ups and downs, as is but natural
to human creeters, we never come to such a pass agin. Both on us
tried real hard; whenever I felt my temper risin’ or discontent
comin’ on I remembered them days and kep’ a taut rein; and as for
Lisha he never said a raspin’ word, or got sulky, but what he’d bust
out laughin’ after it and say: ‘Bless you, Cynthy, it warn’t me, it
was the pig.’"

Mrs. Wilkins’ hearty laugh fired a long train of lesser ones, for
the children recognized a household word. Christie enjoyed the joke,
and even the tea-kettle boiled over as if carried away by the fun.

"Tell some more, please," said Christie, when the merriment
subsided, for she felt her spirits rising.

"There’s nothin’ more to tell, except one thing that prevented my
ever forgittin’ the lesson I got then. My little Almiry took cold
that week and pined away rapid. She’d always been so ailin’ I never
expected to raise her, and more ‘n once in them sinful tempers of
mine I’d thought it would be a mercy ef she was took out of her
pain. But when I laid away that patient, sufferin’ little creeter I
found she was the dearest of ’em all. I most broke my heart to hev
her back, and never, never forgive myself for leavin’ her that
time." With trembling lips and full eyes Mrs. Wilkins stopped to
wipe her features generally on Andrew Jackson’s pinafore, and heave
a remorseful sigh.

"And this is how you came to be the cheerful, contented woman you
are?" said Christie, hoping to divert the mother’s mind from that
too tender memory.

"Yes," she answered, thoughtfully, "I told you Lisha was a smart
man; he give me a good lesson, and it set me to thinkin’ serious.
‘Pears to me trouble is a kind of mellerin’ process, and ef you take
it kindly it doos you good, and you learn to be glad of it. I’m sure
Lisha and me is twice as fond of one another, twice as willin’ to
work, and twice as patient with our trials sense dear little Almiry
died, and times was hard. I ain’t what I ought to be, not by a long
chalk, but I try to live up to my light, do my duty cheerful, love
my neighbors, and fetch up my family in the fear of God. Ef I do
this the best way I know how, I’m sure I’ll get my rest some day,
and the good Lord won’t forgit Cynthy Wilkins. He ain’t so fur, for
I keep my health wonderfle, Lisha is kind and stiddy, the children
flourishin’, and I’m a happy woman though I be a humly one."

There she was mistaken, for as her eye roved round the narrow room
from the old hat on the wall to the curly heads bobbing here and
there, contentment, piety, and mother-love made her plain face
beautiful.

"That story has done me ever so much good, and I shall not forget
it. Now, good-night, for I must be up early to-morrow, and I don’t
want to drive Mr. Wilkins away entirely," said Christie, after she
had helped put the little folk to bed, during which process she had
heard her host creaking about the kitchen as if afraid to enter the
sitting-room.

She laughed as she spoke, and ran up stairs, wondering if she could
be the same forlorn creature who had crept so wearily up only the
night before.

It was a very humble little sermon that Mrs. Wilkins had preached to
her, but she took it to heart and profited by it; for she was a
pupil in the great charity school where the best teachers are often
unknown, unhonored here, but who surely will receive commendation
and reward from the head master when their long vacation comes.

 

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